With business failing due to the Covid-19 lockdown, many sex workers from Kolkata’s Sonagachi are missing, say experts working in the area. The prolonged lockdown has resulted in a sharp decline in the number of customers in Sonagachi, which is one of the oldest and largest red-light areas in Asia, since March.
Experts say they have lost contact with many sex workers who used to live in the neighbouring areas of Sonagachi. “We work with more than 16,000 sex workers of Sonagachi, Chetla-Lakhar Math, Kalighat, Kidderpore and Boubazar. Of the 16,000, 4,000-5,000 sex workers are no longer in our contact,” said Smarajit Jana, chief adviser to the Durbar Mahila Samity.
“The women managed to return home during the lockdown as they had no income. Some of them came from Murshidabad, Machlandpur, Suri or Sundarbans. But now we are unable to reach out to them, we don’t know how they are doing, if they are able to feed their family or not,” Jana added.
The lockdown and unavailability of trains is further creating a hurdle for NGOs to reach out to the sex workers. “We are trying to get information of sex workers from others. We are planning of sending team to places whose addresses are mentioned with us. But due to unavailability of trains and transport facilities, we cannot do so,” said Jana.
However, some experts rule out the possibility that the missing workers could have been trafficked. Mahasweta Mukherjee, a member of the Durbar, said, “Many girls are now stuck at their native places and unable to return home due to unavailability of trains. That doesn’t mean that mean that they have been trafficked.”